London – Eddie Jones believes “spiritual leader” Owen Farrell’s aggression will serve England well when an injury-hit side face South Africa in their opening November international at Twickenham on Saturday.
Farrell, who led England in the absence of regular skipper Dylan Hartley during a 2-1 series loss in South Africa in June, finds himself in the unusual position of co-captain alongside the hooker, now fit following a concussion injury that ruled him out of the tour.
As if that were not enough, goal-kicker Farrell has been switched to the pivotal position of flyhalf for just the third time since Australian coach Jones’ reign as England boss started two years ago following the team’s first-round exit on home soil at the 2015 World Cup.
Farrell has spent a large part of his England career at inside center, with childhood friend George Ford at flyhalf.
But Farrell, a stand-off with English champions Saracens, will be in the playmaking role this weekend, while Danny Cipriani – England’s No 10 when they beat the Springboks 25-10 in Cape Town in June last time out – has not even made the cut for Jones’ training squad.
Farrell will have Ben Te’o alongside him in a midfield featuring Henry Slade, with Ford and powerhouse centre Manu Tuilagi both on the bench.
“We know what George and Owen can do,” said Jones. “I wanted to see the difference it makes playing Owen at 10 with bigger centres.
“Owen’s a good decision-maker and he has a very good tactical kicking game. He’s bit of a spiritual leader in our side so being close to the action will help in that regard.”
Farrell is the son of former England dual code international Andy Farrell and Jones added: “He’s from good stock and he’s an aggressive competitor.
“We need that against South Africa, definitely.”
England, with the 2019 World Cup in Japan now under a year away, go into Saturday’s match with an inexperienced-looking side.
Injuries, allied to a suspension for Nathan Hughes and the international retirement of Joe Marler, have deprived them of several forwards with both Mako and Billy Vunipola, Chris Robshaw, Sam Simmonds and Joe Launchbury among those ruled out.
“We’re missing 400 caps. You don’t just replace 400 caps overnight,” said Jones.
“It’s probably the most inexperienced pack England have had for a long time.”
However, he added: “It’s a great chance to show the potential depth of our squad.
“How many times in the last three years have we had every player available? Not often. How many times have we had four or five unavailable? Very often.
“You’ve got to play with those cards now. We have to find alternatives, and see who can make the jump up to international rugby,” explained Jones, Australia’s coach when they lost the 2003 World Cup final to England in Sydney.
Since the June series, the Springboks have recorded a superb 36-34 win away to world champions New Zealand in Wellington, while their last match saw them narrowly lose 32-30 to the All Blacks in a return Rugby Championship fixture in Pretoria last month.
“It showed how far this team has come and the work we have been putting in,” said Springbok wing Aphiwe Dyantyi of those results against New Zealand.
“There is still a lot to be improved on, especially myself and collectively as a team.”
South Africa will be without fullback Willie le Roux and scrumhalf Faf de Klerk on Saturday because the influential duo play for English clubs who are not obliged to release them for a Test falling outside World Rugby’s designated window for November internationals.
“When we accepted the Test match we knew what the rules were,” said Springbok coach Rassie Erasmus, who has replaced the pair with Damian Willemse and Ivan van Zyl respectively.
“It’s an old cliché but it’s opportunities. It’s a Test match, you never want to lose a Test match, but we’ll learn some valuable lessons here.”
15 Elliot Daly, 14 Jack Nowell, 13 Henry Slade, 12 Ben Te’o, 11 Jonny May, 10 Owen Farrell (co-captain), 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Mark Wilson, 7 Tom Curry, 6 Brad Shields, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Dylan Hartley (co-captain), 1 Alec Hepburn
Substitutes: 16 Jamie George, 17 Ben Moon, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Charlie Ewels, 20 Zach Mercer, 21 Danny Care, 22 George Ford, 23 Manu Tuilagi
15 Damian Willemse, 14 S’bu Nkosi, 13 Jesse Kriel, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Aphiwe Dyantyi, 10 Handre Pollard, 9 Ivan van Zyl, 8 Warren Whiteley, 7 Duane Vermeulen, 6 Siya Kolisi (captain), 5 Pieter-Steph du Toit, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 3 Frans Malherbe, 2 Malcolm Marx, 1 Steven Kitshoff
Substitutes: 16 Bongi Mbonambi, 17 Thomas du Toit, 18 Wilco Louw, 19 RG Snyman, 20 Lood de Jager, 21 Embrose Papier, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Andre Esterhuizen